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  • Jan Flynn

America Needs a New Medal

The Medal of Freedom was our highest civilian honor

According to Wikipedia, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded by the president of the United States “for especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”.

Which just goes to show that you can’t trust everything you read on Wikipedia. Because at his last State of the Union address, Trump bestowed the Medal of Freedom on Rush Limbaugh. To be precise, the President had First Lady Melania — who has chosen anti-bullying as her advocacy focus — do the actual bestowing in a staged surprise move that would have made P.T. Barnum blush.

Perhaps the Current Occupant had a puff of sincerity when he orchestrated the gesture: Mr. Limbaugh had the day before announced he is suffering from stage four lung cancer, and there is no doubt having the highest honor in the land draped around his neck on national TV did a lot to lift his spirits. Really, though, if that was Trump’s intent, I do wish he’d delivered the man a fruit basket with a nice card instead.

I’d be the first person to say that nobody deserves lung cancer. But I have a hard time thinking of a public figure — at least one who is currently at large— who deserves the Medal of Freedom less than Rush Limbaugh.

The medal is bestowed entirely at the President’s discretion, of course, so once again Trump is taking the opportunity to revel in doing what nobody can tell him not to. As public spectacles go, I’ve never seen such an elaborate slap in the face of such a large swath of the American public.

Previous medals have gone to leaders in the arts, human rights, statesmanship, medicine, and journalism. Recipients have included General Colin Powell (twice), Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Edward R. Murrow, Nelson Mandela, and Jonas Salk. Also, Joe Biden in 2017, although I’m not sure Trump knows that and I’d be surprised if anybody in his sphere had the temerity to tell him.

The backlash has been swift and vehement. Paul Reyes, in his piece in The Hill, pulls no punches:

He is not a great man worthy of a high honor. He is a mean-spirited bully who will be remembered for his vitriol . . . His career reflects the worst brand of destructive partisanship. Limbaugh receiving the Medal of Freedom contaminates the honor for all past and future recipients.

But it’s Talmon Joseph Smith, in his opinion piece in the New York Times (Rush Limbaugh In His Own Words, Feb. 7, 2020)that perhaps best illustrates the cynicism and perversity of giving the award to America’s most vituperative, hate-mongering schlock jock. Smith does so simply by letting the man’s words speak for him, presenting a list of just a few of Limbaugh’s most noxious utterances. Here is just a small sample:

“Feminism was established so that unattractive ugly broads could have easy access to the mainstream.” “The N.A.A.C.P. should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.”

Whenever and however America finds its way out of the dark hall of funhouse mirrors in which we’re currently trapped, we will need a period of healing, of restoration, of re-establishing the principles that once lay at our national core.

And for sure, we’ll need a different medal. Because the Medal of Freedom has been tarnished beyond recognition.

Featured image: Photo by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash

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